Lynn Syms (center) at an AFIPO benefit event at the Pierre, New York. Photo by Chris Lee.
The Sy Syms Foundation recently announced a $100,000 matching grant dedicated to AFIPO’s digital programming which reaches millions of viewers in more than 80 countries across the globe . To celebrate this generous gift, we had the pleasure of chatting with Sy Syms Foundation board member and former AFIPO Board President Lynn Syms to learn more about her life-long dedication to the arts, as both an avid artist herself and a great lover of classical music:
Thank you so much, Lynn, for taking the time to chat with us. What’s your personal background with the arts and where does that passion come from?
I’m an artist——a sculptor. I’ve been doing that for many years. My husband Sy was a businessman, but he loved to tag along with me to my arts events and supported my passion tremendously.
I really believe that all arts are connected. I started out as a child loving to cartoon and copy drawings from my comic books, and here I am today. In the last two years, I’ve taken up a new creative hobby, memoir writing, which I absolutely adore. Whether it’s painting or sculpture, or writing or music, to me it’s really all the same.
Would you say that a lot of your family and the Foundation’s involvement with the arts has been driven by you and your passion?
I’m proud that my children and grandchildren have all become involved in the arts. My son has been an architect for many years, and my daughter is a jewelry designer. One grandson is a painter, the other is a writer. One granddaughter is a filmmaker and the other, who is just starting college, is a poet. Everyone in our family is creative in his or her own way, and we all love it.
As former AFIPO Board President, can you share your perspective on the power of music to do good for the world?
I believe very strongly that music is a universal language. I am not a musician, but I appreciate music. It puts me in mind of the many years of evenings spent at the New York Philharmonic. When the music would start, I would just kind of go away. Just drift away into thought. It was always a very beautiful and pleasant and peaceful experience.
I became involved with the Israel Phil specifically because I admire the Orchestra’s worldwide impact. Over his years with the orchestra, Zubin Mehta performed with the Israel Philharmonic in some countries that traditionally did not welcome Jewish people. And they made a tremendous in-roads. That progress is invaluable. It proves that music breaks down barriers. It’s not through words—-music speaks to you emotionally, and everybody is emotional in one way or another. And I think that’s the true value of communicating through the arts.
The Israel Phil has gone beyond performing as well. They teach the next generation. They hold concerts for Holocaust survivors. They are very, very devoted to the power of music.
Do you have any classical music favorites?
I really enjoy it all tremendously. I could turn on anything, but I guess I would say Mozart is my favorite. I find it happy music, particularly the piano concertos. But different kinds of classical music speak to me in different ways.
The Sy Syms Foundation has recently announced a $100,000 matching grant— dollar for dollar—to anyone that donates to our digital programming. What’s the power behind a matching grant?
I think the power of a matching grant is the way that it can create greater involvement. If you can afford to give $1 and you know that it’s going to turn into $2 up to a certain point, I think you’re going to be more inclined to give that dollar. So that’s basically what it’s about.
The grant is particularly earmarked for our digital programing. What is it about the reach of digital programming that excites the Sy Syms Foundation?
I feel very strongly that the digital era is the wave of the future, and I think it’s quite prudent of the Israel Phil to recognize that and start to jump on it. I thought it was important enough and was able to get my board to share my view that it was worth the $100,000 investment. Particularly if we can get much more bang for the buck by other people contributing.
By engaging in digital programs, we’re able to get out in front of people. We are engaging young people again, which is very important. When AFIPO was first beginning, I used to delight in entertaining young people at open houses or event. Years ago, we had eight marriages from our group of young people! It was immensely special to build that kind of community around the Israel Phil.
What is your best memory with the Israel Philharmonic?
I’ve been on the board of AFIPO now for 30 years—-since its very beginnings in New York. One memory with the Israel Philharmonic that really stands out from me was years ago, when the orchestra was invited to England to perform. We were in London, and we were invited to Buckingham Palace. Those were the days of ball gowns and tuxedos and dance bands—we were dressed to the nines. When we went into the room where the performance was to be held, it was all set up beautifully, with grand, gilded, opera chairs, and everything was all very fancy. All of a sudden, the room went quiet, and Prince Philip walked in. Zubin Mehta, who was conducting the orchestra that evening, immediately started them playing the British National Anthem. He followed it beautifully with Israel’s National Anthem, Hatikvah. I was so surprised. I went up to him after the performance, and I said, “You have got some nerve playing Hatikvah in the middle of Buckingham Palace.” He said right back to me, “Do you think I would be here in Buckingham Palace and not play Hatikvah? Are you kidding?” That stands out for me because that was so much like Zubin. And, you know, it was great fun.
It has also been great fun building the following that we have now, from the ground up. When I was Board President, one of the things that I wanted to do was to reach out to people who could support us with $5, or $10, or whatever they could-—and I wanted to do this everywhere. Now we are finally doing that, which is so exciting. I think it makes a tremendous difference. The money is great, sure. But the recognition of the orchestra by so many people is what truly is fantastic.
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